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New NYC Programs Help Kids in Care
Karen Savage
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There are nearly 10,000 children in New York City’s foster care system. That’s down from the high of nearly 49,000 in 1991. It’s also an improvement since November, 2014, when the number was just under 11,000.

What’s behind this trend? One possibility is several new programs that include parenting help for both birth families and foster parents.

New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has legal custody of children in the foster care system, and contracts with 23 local agencies to provide day-to-day services.

In 2013, with nearly 13,000 children in the system, the city implemented ChildSuccessNYC (CSNYC) in five of the foster care agencies. CSNYC is a program that uses evidence-based practices to provide both biological and foster parents skills they need to keep children’s lives stable.

“Evidence-based practice models” combine research, workers’ experience, and a family’s preferences. Together, workers and the family figure out their goals and how to reach them.

There are proven methods to being a better parent, the program’s backers say. Sharing those methods throughout the system gives a child predictable, fair treatment across placements, and better still, can keep a child from ever being removed from her parents in the first place.

The cornerstones to CSNYC are two training programs: Keeping Foster and Kin Parents Supported and Trained (KEEP) for foster families, and Parenting Through Change (PTC) for birth families. Foster parents, birth parents, and caseworkers are trained to use consistent parenting strategies to create stability for children. All parents working with the CSNYC agencies are required to enroll in a 16-week training program and to complete a six-week refresher course once each year.

The New York Foundling is the largest of the five agencies piloting CSNYC. Sylvia Rowlands, senior vice president of evidence-based programs at The Foundling, said CSNYC is working, noting that the agency reduced its number of clients from 803 just before implementing CSNYC to 618 as of March 30.

“We just have a totally different relationship with people,” said Rowlands. “It has impacted the capacity to engage with families in these super difficult situations.”

Mixed Results

To further assess the effectiveness of CSNYC, University of Chicago researchers are in the process of compiling data submitted by The Foundling and other agencies. An interim report released last year shows mixed results.

Children cared for by the five agencies that implemented CSNYC were 11% more likely to permanently exit foster care than those cared for by other agencies. Another ACS report indicates the total number in foster care during December 2015 fell to just under 10,000.

But CSNYC did not significantly reduce placement-to-placement moves.

“One of the great tragedies is the number of moves kids experience,” said Andrew White, ACS deputy commissioner for policy planning and measurement. “Foster parents need to be supported so they can stick with these kids until they go home.”

In 2015, ACS’s other 18 agencies implemented Strong Families, a different initiative focusing on providing mental health services and strengthening young child-parent bonding.

Data collection on Strong Families is ongoing and should be available later this year, White said. His office will then compare results from the two initiatives to determine which model gets the best results and provides the most stability over time.

image by YC-Art Dept

Both CSNYC and Strong Families are funded by a special federal rule that makes funding available to ACS for reducing the number of kids in the system. ACS passes funding to agencies for implementation and caseworker training.

Consistent Parenting

CSNYC facilitator Freda Forbes said the trainings give parents the tools they need to deal with child behavior, which she says will reduce “disruptions,” or moves from placement to placement. She says trainings like KEEP and PTC go a long way toward permanency by ensuring that birth parents, foster parents, and caseworkers are all using similar parenting strategies.

At a recent KEEP meeting, foster parents talked about setting clear rules for children, using charts to monitor progress, and setting and following through on clear consequences for not following rules. Birth parents at PTC meetings practice the same skills and strategies, making it easier for children during reunification. According to Forbes, consistency will ultimately result in increased permanency for kids—less time spent in the system—and will help children stay out of foster care.

Foster parent Sherri Fauci, 56, was initially skeptical when she learned about the required KEEP training. Once a week for 16 weeks seemed like a long time, she said. Plus she’d already raised kids of her own before stepping in to provide kinship foster care for her two grandchildren, ages 6 and 9. But after the first class, she was convinced.

“These folks have been good to me,” she said after a KEEP session in February. “I was scared in the beginning that they’d break up our family, but they said not to worry, it’s gonna be OK. And it is.”

Fauci said the support and camaraderie from other foster parents and The Foundling’s KEEP facilitators have been valuable. She credits the program for helping her establish a consistent routine for her grandchildren, and she expects to get permanent custody within the next few months. This year, she completed a six-week refresher course.

“I didn’t feel alone in this anymore,” she said.

Andrew White of ACS credits the agency’s improving preventive services for reducing the number of kids in ACS custody.

“For those kids who do need foster care, we need to do everything we can to provide stability,” said White, adding that it’s crucial to give foster parents the supports they need to succeed.

Foster parent Rowena Williams said children are better individually supported under CSNYC, which she says supports all aspects of a foster child’s development and gets them back into their homes more quickly. The program also allows for individualized help and is based on the child’s needs, including therapy and skills coaching, she said.

“Not only does this help the kids, it helps the foster parent be more effective with them,” Williams said.

More Cooperation

Linda Johnson, an Adoption KinGAP worker with The Foundling, sees parents using the techniques during home visits. She said she’s seen skeptical parents who try using consistent, clear consequences—like temporary loss of video games or other privileges—with great success. Whether kids return to their birth parents or are adopted, Johnson said, they don’t need to start from scratch—they jump right into a system they already know.

After 16 weeks together, Johnson said, relationships between workers and parents also improve. “Parents will say, ‘I used this technique and you were right, it worked,’” she said. “And that can happen in large part because we understand that everybody makes mistakes; you just need to be willing to learn.”

Moving kids from placement to placement not only retraumatizes children, but it makes it difficult to keep good foster parents. The more effective parents are, the more likely they are to stick with the system, Johnson said. And helping birth parents improve their parenting makes it less likely a child will have to go into care in the first place.


This article was published by our colleagues at Youth Today, an independent, national newspaper for professionals in the youth service field. It has been slightly edited; the full version is available at bit.ly/newnyprograms.

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